Cool New Game Asks: Are You the Traitor?

Geek Culture

image: Looney Labsimage: Looney Labs

image: Looney Labs

Looney Labs (founded by Andy and Kristin Looney—their real names) is the company responsible for a couple of my favorite non-traditional games: Treehouse consists of little plastic pyramids which have spawned a variety of different games (maybe I’ll dedicate a post to those in the future), and Fluxx (which comes in a variety of flavors) is a wacky game in which the cards played change the rules of the game. Kind of like Calvinball, only with cards.

Their newest game, set to release on July 10, is Are You the Traitor? It’s a swords-and-sorcery variation on games like Mafia and Werewolf (which itself has several variations), but with a few changes: first, nobody gets eliminated, which means that you won’t have people sitting on the sidelines waiting for everyone else to finish the game. Second, the game plays out faster, because the rounds are quick. Finally, the character cards are shuffled each round, so you change teams rather than remaining as a single character the entire game.

I got the chance to play a few times and here are my impressions.I’ll start with the rules, which are fairly simple. Everyone gets a role card: Good Wizard, Evil Wizard, Key-holder, Guard, Traitor. (The number of each varies depending on the number of players). Everyone but the Traitor is looking for a particular character: Evil Wizard wants to find the Key-holder; the Key-holder wants to find the Good Wizard, the Guards want to find the Traitor, and so forth. The Traitor wants to help the Evil Wizard find the Key-holder, but without being caught out as the Traitor. The game is basically free-form conversation until one player points at another and calls, “Stop!” Then everyone reveals their roles. If the caller is correct, his team gets treasure cards; otherwise, the opposing team receives them. First player to ten points wins the game.

I played several games with my regular gaming group, consisting mostly of high schoolers who have played a wide variety of games with me, including several with hidden roles. There was initial excitement about getting to try a new game, particularly since we’ve enjoyed others by Looney Labs. However, the first night we tried it, it really felt like a disappointment. Nobody really knew where to start. How do you go about figuring out which wizard is good and which is evil? Since there’s no other gameplay involved, you just have to start talking and guessing, and it took a while for anyone to formulate a strategy. Another problem was that some players tended to jump the gun and make their guess before everyone had a chance to speak. Unlike Mafia, where each team has to reach a consensus before anything happens, it only takes one player to end the round, and then roles are re-shuffled. This led to a good bit of grumbling the first time we played.

Still, I had to believe that there was more to the game than what I was experiencing, so I tried to give it a fair shake. All in all, we tried the game with four, five, six, and eight players; the rules change slightly depending on the number of players, and I wanted to get a feel for the differences. I think most of my gaming group agreed that the rules for the larger group worked better: after eight players you introduce a second Traitor, and the two Traitors get a chance to recognize each other. With nine or ten players you also get a third wizard (who could be either good or evil) but we haven’t gotten that many players together yet. It also helped when everyone took their time before jumping to conclusions, giving us more time to try out tactics. Still, we all felt like we were still missing a little in the strategy department and that some of our tactics would only work the first few times we played the game. I’m not giving up on it yet, but my current group tends to prefer games that are a little more structured and had trouble with the free-form aspect of this one. Your mileage may vary.

The artwork on the cards is pretty well done and helps establish the theme, and the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to understand. I like the fact that it’s a small, portable card game that can accomodate from four to ten players, and it’s a fairly quick game to play, so a good filler in-between heavier stuff. I don’t know if this one will get a lot of play with my current gaming group, but I think people who prefer party games might get better results.

Wired: Easy to learn, quick to play, no eliminated players, nice artwork.

Tired: Figuring out strategy is a head-scratcher; doesn’t work as well with fewer players; overenthusiastic players can ruin the game for everyone else.

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